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The English National Opera (ENO) is rethinking how to stage productions for the current self-distancing environment. A lot depends on when driving restrictions might be lifted.

Mark Brown writes at the Guardian, “English National Opera (ENO) has announced plans for what are thought to be the world’s first drive-in opera performances.

“Planned for the first three weeks of September, the idea is to stage live performances in the grounds of Alexandra Palace, north London, with musicians and singers spaced out to conform with physical distancing guidelines. If successful, ENO hopes to roll out the ‘Drive & Live’ concept to other parts of the UK.

“Stuart Murphy, ENO’s chief executive, told the Guardian it was part of the company’s mission of ‘opera for everyone.’ He said: ‘It is a bit of an experiment and if it works it might be a way of bringing the art form to people in a totally different and authentic way.’ …

“The idea is that the audience would be in 300 cars, with the bigger vehicles at the back. People on motorbikes and pedal cycles would also be allowed. Then windows go down and the audience watches the live performance unfold on a specially constructed set.

“The audience reaction could be interesting, Murphy said. ‘Instead of clapping or shouting “bravo,” it might be that people flash their lights or honk their horn. As long as it’s authentic, we’re not going to force it.

“ ‘I think it could attract a whole new generation to opera, people who love their car, see it as an extension to themselves.’ …

“Murphy said if the concept worked, then he could see drive-in operas being staged at racecourses or historic properties. ‘We’ve also had a couple of really productive conversations with international opera houses who think we’re on to something. It is an attempt to square the circle and let people have a big collective moment while staying safe.’

“The first 12 performances will be a shortened 90-minute version of Puccini’s La Bohème and a one-hour family-friendly version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

The first show will be free for National Health Service and frontline workers. …

“Murphy, who joined ENO in 2018 after a career in TV [said] all arts companies needed now to be ‘nimble and quick’ and react to circumstances, but at the moment ENO was not planning for seats being empty. …

“Some countries have allowed drive-in cinemas to remain open during the lockdown. Germany, for example, has two year-round operations, in Essen and Cologne. According to the Hollywood Reporter, both have sold out for every screening since Germany’s lockdown was declared. Makeshift drive-ins are also popping up around the country.

“In the US, the spiritual home of the drive-in, fewer than 25 of the nation’s 320 drive-ins are reportedly open for business, but that could change. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, said [in April that] he would consider allowing drive-ins to reopen. ‘Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theatre. You’re in the car with the same people,’ he said.”

Photo: Donald Cooper/Photostage
An English National Opera production of
The Magic Flute in the Good Old Days of 2019. Today ENO operas must take Covid-19 and social distancing into account.

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Photo: Slung Low
The Slung Low theater group sorting out food parcels at their headquarters in Leeds, England.

Many companies and nonprofits around the world have been stepping up to meet new needs during the lockdown. This story is about an innovative UK theater delivering food to the hungry.

Ian Youngs reports at the BBC, “When you’re suddenly tasked with co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable local people during a pandemic, the ability to think creatively comes in useful. As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.

“But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.

” ‘Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,’ he says on the phone from Leeds. … Yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs. So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals.

‘The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream. …

“Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.

“They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.

“Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations — from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. …

“Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that — appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up. …

“On top of that, he has launched an open-air art gallery, posting residents’ lockdown pictures on lampposts. And Slung Low has just made a short film — shot before coronavirus rewrote Lane’s job description — which went online on Friday.

” ‘We didn’t know this at the time, but having a short film to release at the moment is much better than having a play,’ he says.

“Except — he will be taking an enforced break from all that frenetic activity for a while. [A Covid-19 test] came back negative, but he has symptoms so is isolating and recovering. Others have stepped in to ensure Slung Low’s work goes on. …

“The connection with the local community is what sets Slung Low apart from other theatre companies and means it can adapt to doing things like delivering food during a crisis, Lane says.

“Other venues have been busy putting their shows online and continuing their education and outreach activities digitally, but Lane thinks they could be doing more with their facilities.

” ‘There are a lot of vans currently sat in the car parks of arts organisations because they couldn’t quite work out the insurance to get them doing food bank work,’ he says. … ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re for at Slung Low. What we’re for is not putting on a show for people to pay for tickets.

” ‘[Putting on a show is] something we do quite a bit, and something that we can be quite good at on a good day. But it’s not what we’re for. And therefore, when you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean we stop.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

Although people in the arts may not be uniquely compassionate, they’re often among the first to demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of others. Still, gold stars for a city council that thought of asking for the theater’s help!

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Photo: Celeste Sloman for the Washington Post
In New York City, where the Covid-19 lockdown is putting many residents in danger of going hungry, immigrants at Migrant Kitchen are feeding multitudes.

I always like stories about how much immigrants benefit America, and this one from the Washington Post is a great example.

Richard Morgan writes, “At 5:30 a.m. in a godforsaken industrial crevice of Queens, Daniel Dorado recently waited in a line of mostly undocumented restaurant workers before the opening of Restaurant Depot, a wholesaler like Costco on steroids available only to the industry. His goal was 2,000 meal containers, and, boom, he was in and out in 12 minutes.

“The containers would soon be packed with sumptuous entrees: citrus garlic salmon with Cuban black beans and coconut herb rice, or moussaka-stuffed zucchini with dirty rice and beans, or mojo chicken with chimichurri and roasted potatoes with grilled shishito peppers. …

“Dorado, an American-born son of a Mexican immigrant, has been running what is probably New York’s largest restaurant-quality active cooking operation during the pandemic lockdown, serving 6,000 meals a day.

“Last year he and two former colleagues from Ilili, a Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant in the Flatiron District, formed the Migrant Kitchen NYC, ostensibly a catering company, which orchestrated an alliance with four other kitchens. …

“As much attention as beleaguered restaurants have gotten in the pandemic’s lockdown, far less attention has been paid to catering companies, which can produce food on a massive scale but not within the limits of a la carte orders available through delivery apps. Enter Migrant Kitchen. They pay wages of $20 to $25 an hour in their kitchen, [Nasser Jaber, a Palestinian immigrant who was an Ilili waiter,] said, and with the four other kitchens pooled 40 largely undocumented workers from Make The Road, a civil rights group — plus workers and volunteers who handle packing and delivery. …

What started out on March 13 with 100 meals to hospitals and shelters quickly grew to 6,000 meals a day to 13 hospitals, four food pantries, three homeless shelters, three senior centers, public housing complexes in the Bronx and Queens, a Queens mosque and dozens of covid-19-infected families. …

“A few days before Ramadan began on April 23, they switched all meals to halal-certified. ‘We don’t just want to give people food,’ Dorado said. ‘We want them to know we took their needs into consideration. We don’t want anyone getting food that they don’t want to eat. It’s for them, not for us.’ For families, Migrant Kitchen also makes grocery bags of staples like eggs and milk, and tucks in chicken tenders or pizza for children. Even diapers. …

“Sam Bloch, [World Central Kitchen’s] director of field operations, laid out Migrant Kitchen’s strength: ‘It’s beautiful, right? How many win-wins can you have? Where the food is coming from, who’s making it, how it’s supporting that individual person, how it’s supporting that [kitchen], and all that built on top of the fact that someone who really needs that plate of food is receiving it.’ …

“Head chef Ryan Graham explained the [Migrant Kitchen] mission: ‘A lot of big-batch cooking … doesn’t monitor seasoning, the flavor, the texture, the veg, the meat, the starch, the digestion, the nutrition.’ By contrast, he noted, he was slow-cooking a sauce that included 20 spices for nine hours. One of his cooks also recommended that a dish’s tomato paste be caramelized. (Bloch called the approach ‘food with dignity.’) …

” ‘I’m trying to keep myself strong. I’m alone but I don’t feel lonely,’ said a 76-year-old Bangladeshi man who lives by himself in the heavy-hit Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. …

“He said he was ashamed to be publicly identified as in need. He hasn’t left his home since the first week of March. His income is $500 a month. Through [social justice group Desis Rising Up and Moving, DRUM, his Migrant Kitchen meals — two a day — come every afternoon, but, in accordance with Ramadan, he waits until sunset and pre-dawn to eat them. ‘It’s a blessing for old people,’ he said. ‘It’s an example for humanity.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Finnbarr Webster / Getty Images
The UK’s “Sturminster Newton Mill has stood on the banks of the River Stour in Dorset County since 1016,” writes the
Smithsonian. It was called up out of retirement to help feed the populace during the Covid-19 pandemic.

You’ve heard of old soldiers reenlisting to fight a war and medical people being called out of retirement to fight a pandemic.

In this story, we learn about a 1,000-year-old decommissioned mill in England that is rolling again. (Imagine being able to talk about 1,000 years ago! In this country, only indigenous people can do that.)

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “Flour has been in high demand and short supply during the coronavirus pandemic. Imogen Bittner and Pete Loosmore knew they were in a unique position to help home bakers in southwest England by firing up a mill site that is more than 1,000 years old.

“So the two millers, who help run the Sturminster Newton Mill and the adjacent museum, decided in early April that it was time to dust off their aprons and go back to the grind.

“They cranked up the ancient machinery at the mill, which has been updated through the years but has been powered by a water turbine since 1904. In recent years, it has been used exclusively as a museum that churns out small ornamental bags of flour for visitors in the small town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset county.

‘When covid-19 struck, all of the local shops ran out of flour very quickly,’ said Loosmore, 79, a retired art teacher who has worked at the mill for 25 years. ‘We had a stock of good-quality milling wheat and the means and skills to grind it into flour, so we thought we could help.’

“In the past month, with the mill operating full-time in the agricultural town of 5,000 people, he estimates they have ground more than a ton of grain and bagged several hundred sacks of flour. The three-pound bags are sold at cost to a local grocer and baker, who then sell them, said Bittner, with all proceeds benefiting the mill’s upkeep.

“ ‘We’ve been inundated with requests to sell it online or in large quantities, but we are not a commercial business,’ said Bittner, 63, an artist who began learning the art of milling 18 months ago and plans to take over as supervisor when Loosmore retires next year.

“Bittner, who has traveled the world but now lives in the home in which she was born near the mill, said she has always been drawn to the historical structure along the River Stour.

“ ‘It’s been amazing to work alongside oak beams that have been inside the mill since the 14th century and which were probably [trees] growing locally in the 10th and 11th centuries,’ [Bittner] said. ‘Although there have been adaptations and changes, these gnarled old timbers still hold the roof in place.’ …

“Loosmore said the mill, which is managed by the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust, is treasured by locals, who volunteer every year to bag flour for museum visitors and help with maintenance. …

The wooden water mill dates to 1016, he said, and is mentioned in agricultural records in the Domesday Book, a ‘survey’ of England and Wales written in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. …

“[It’s] a building that has survived everything from war to the Black Death.

” ‘It’s just a wonderful historical attraction — we have details from abbey documents dating back to the 13th century naming some of the millers and describing their roles, rents and obligations,” said Bittner, adding that one miller in 1230 paid part of his rent in eels.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: John Moore / Getty Images
Stamford elementary school teacher Luciana Lira, 42, kisses baby Neysel, then 2 1/2 weeks, before showing the newborn for the first time to his mother Zully, a Guatemalan asylum seeker gravely ill with COVID-19, and her son Junior, 7, via Zoom.

I wanted my blog to be the first place you saw this story, but you can’t keep a good story down. Yesterday I noticed that the Washington Post had picked it up from a May 2 report by Christine Dempsey at the Hartford Courant. Read on.

“One month ago,” Dempsey wrote, “Luciana Lira, a bilingual teacher at a Stamford elementary school, got a call from a parent like no other. The mom, gravely ill with the coronavirus and about to deliver a premature baby, could barely breathe. ‘Miss Lira?’ she said in Spanish. ‘I need help.’

“The call set off a chain of events that led to Lira agreeing to take the woman’s newborn while the mother and her other family members recover from COVID-19. The 42-year-old educator spent most of April teaching online during the day and warming up bottles and feeding the baby at night, all while looking after her own son, husband and in-laws.

“For the baby’s mother, Zully, recovery has been slow. Her breathing tube was removed only on April 18, and she still is testing positive for COVID-19. Zully’s son — Lira’s student — Junior, 7, also tested positive, as did Zully’s husband, Marvin. …

“In the urgent phone call, Zully asked Lira to call her husband, Marvin. She gave Lira his number.

“At the time, Lira wouldn’t have known Marvin if she walked into him, she said. … But after Zully’s April 1 request, Lira was now on the phone with him, speaking Spanish, and he was a mess.

” ‘All he could do is cry. And cry. And cry,’ Lira said. …

“Lira realized she needed to act as an interpreter for the family. So she went to the hospital, but was turned away when staff learned that she was not a relative. A few days later, with Marvin’s approval, she was allowed to receive medical information on behalf of the family. Lira was now the point person for communication between Marvin and Stamford Hospital. In addition to talking to Marvin, she has been communicating with family members as far away as Guatemala.

“Her role was stressful. Zully was doing very poorly. She delivered her 5-pound, 12-ounce baby boy while in a medically induced coma, Lira said. …

“While Zully lay in a hospital bed, unaware she had given birth, the conversation turned to the baby, who eventually was named Neysel. …

“Marvin, who strongly suspected he, like his wife, had COVID-19, was afraid his newborn would contract the disease. He had no available relatives who could take the baby home. …

“ ‘Mrs. Lira, I know I can’t ask you this,’ he said one day, according to Lira.

“ ‘I said, “Don’t even say it because I’m going to,” ‘ Lira said. ‘ “You don’t even have to ask. My answer is yes.” ‘

Marvin insisted on making Lira’s husband Alex — who only knows a little bit of Spanish — part of the conversation before she brought a strange baby into the house, she said. ‘Marvin is amazing, a very, very responsible man,’ she said. ‘Even the nurse was crying.’ ..

“A colleague from school set up a gift registry for baby items. People donated supplies and food, she said. Then came the day of discharge. Donning a mask, gloves and protective covering, Lira took a car seat and headed to the hospital. … Marvin, who, like Lira, also was wearing head-to-toe protective gear, was standing on the opposite corner of the room, recording the moment from a distance with his phone.

“ ‘Oh … my … God. Hi, Baby,’ Lira said. The baby opened his eyes, looked at her and blinked, as if trying to figure out her role in his new life. …

“Since he arrived at her house, Neysel has been doing ‘amazing,’ said Lira, who sounds upbeat even when she’s dog-tired. ‘I work full time during the day, and at night, the baby’s up.’ Asked when she gets sleep, she laughed. ‘I’m getting strength from God.’ …

“Lira is more worried about Zully than herself. While her condition gradually improved, and Zully was discharged, she is far from recovered. She is having trouble walking. Lira said doctors wanted Zully to go into a rehabilitation center, but Zully and Marvin lack the insurance to pay for it because they both got laid off from their jobs at the beginning of the health crisis, essentially falling victim to the coronavirus twice. …

“ ‘My dream would be to have her home, with the baby, for Mother’s Day,’ she said.”

More at the Hartford Courant, here, and at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Natalie Bell
Natalie Bell and her kids, says CBC, “have been making Tik Tok and Instagram videos together to pass the time while they’re isolating at their home in Winnipeg, Canada.”

The other day, I took an online seminar on how to do TikTok. Just because. But even before I read today’s story, I was pretty sure you would need a teenager in the house to move to the next level. (Namely, the level beyond downloading the app.)

Rachel Bergen at CBC Manitoba writes, “Families cooped up together during the COVID-19 pandemic are turning to Netflix, board games and puzzles to get them through — but a few are going renegade and taking on TikTok dance challenges.

“Take Pat Tetrault and his three daughters in La Broquerie, Manitoba, who found they had an abundance of time on their hands and decided to use it making TikTok videos together.

” ‘They showed me a few TikToks that I thought were hilarious, so I said, “What the heck, let’s do something crazy. Let’s get something done,” ‘ he said.

“TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, with more than 800 million people around the world using the app regularly to create and share short videos. It’s mostly popular with teens, who often post videos of themselves taking on dance challenges. …

“Although Tetrault is still going to work, his daughters are home and isolated from their friends. It can be challenging, he said, but the videos are ways they can have fun together — and his daughters can make fun of their dad. …

“Making creative videos is a great outlet, says parenting commentator Ann Douglas. The parenting book author and columnist for CBC Radio says children and teens are likely feeling very vulnerable and out of control, so parents ceding control of activities allows kids to take a bit more ownership of a challenging situation.

” ‘I think it’s great to let kids take the lead on some of the activities because right now, a lot of kids are feeling like they’ve lost all control over their life,’ she said. … ‘One thing kids can control is coming up with a way to have fun.’

“Tetrault’s daughters control their TikTok videos and, apparently, his dance moves.

” ‘I’ll be honest with you. I’m old school. I’m not a big dancer. … The girls are teaching me all sorts of new stuff. … We’re actually getting closer because of it. … It’s a different avenue of connecting with them.’

“Natalie Bell is also making TikTok videos using her account @pegcitylovely with her children to pass the time.

‘We try to do things more now as a family than we ever have before because, of course, it used to be just the business of the day. … It’s just something fun. There’s no stress, there’s no pressure. It’s just if we want to do it, we do it,’ Bell said. ‘We have fun and we don’t care who sees it.’ …

“In Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Nellie Guimond, Alexa Haley and Lily-Jade Haley create daily videos on TikTok featuring their mother, Cindy Guimond, and their dad, Éric Haley — whom they are teaching to dance.

” ‘Showing this to the world, to our family and friends, was really entertaining for everyone, and everyone loved it. I think that’s the main reason for our little popularity … his goofy side that people didn’t think he would, or could, show,’ Nellie said in a CBC Quebec AM interview.

“Lily-Jade said making the videos keeps them happy and connected.

‘Sometimes we laugh about our dad, because he doesn’t get the moves right away,’ she said. …

“[Parenting commentator] Douglas said there are many creative ways parents can connect with their children during the pandemic, and they don’t need to use social media to do it.

“For example, it can be an opportunity to try new things in the kitchen and access a kind of ‘improvisational inspiration,’ she says. ‘What if you only have these five or six ingredients? And what could you Google and find a recipe for? And how might it really turn out?’

“For parents of craft-loving kids, Douglas suggests making signs with community-minded messages to put in the window for others to see.”

OK, but if you ask me, TikTok videos of dancing dads who don’t know how to dance sure beats signs in the window.

More at the CBC, here.

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Photo: Anne Lakeman/Mediamatic ETEN
Testing the Serres Séparées safe-eating concept at Mediamatic restaurant in the Netherlands.

My husband keeps saying he can’t imagine that going to restaurants will ever be the same after coronavirus. In fact, he says, if nice restaurants continue doing takeout, maybe we should just stick with that.

Of course, restaurant owners are already thinking about these issues.

Byron Mühlberg reports from the Netherlands that the possibility of future guests requesting their own separate spaces has got some restaurateurs thinking creatively.

“With Dutch restaurants, bars and other catering services engulfed in uncertainty over how they might adjust to the 1.5-meter society,” he writes, “one Amsterdam restaurant is set to experiment with a brand new way of condoning off its guests: Using enclosed greenhouses.

“Mediamatic ETEN, part of a larger arts and entrepreneurship center focusing on sustainability, is a vegan restaurant. … From May 21, the restaurant will begin taking in guests, only this time they will be seated inside Serres Séparées (‘separated greenhouses’), enclosed glass structures, each equipped with a table for two or three diners.

” ‘This was one of the most feasible ideas from a large list of ideas we had when brainstorming,’ Mediamatic’s founding partner Willem Velthoven told NL Times. …

Initially, no more than three guests will be allowed to dine inside each greenhouse, even though there is the capacity for more. ‘[This is] is because we are now careful with our optimism,’ Velthoven explained. …

” ‘Bigger groups could [come] now, but then they should be families. For now, bigger groups are being discouraged because, from our experience, they are just louder and then you get the excited behavior causing spittle to fly and so on, and that’s the kind of behavior that would make the virus spread faster,’ Velthoven said. …

“Catering industry association KHN told NL Times, ‘We sent a protocol to the government two weeks ago, containing advice on how best to open the 1.5 [meter] distance. It is crucial that the government provide perspective quickly.’

“While KHN said it would not yet advise restaurants to reopen on June 1, renowned catering tycoon Laurens Meyer … questioned the idea of people becoming too careful with space.

” ‘We have to realize that there will always be some kind of virus. Whether it is worse than the flu, we have to see. If there is nothing left of our economy, we will no longer be able to afford health care and that will also cost human lives,’ explained Meyer.

“Velthoven, on the other hand, disagrees with Meyer’s approach, urging caution before advising restaurants to open their doors to the public without careful examination. ‘It’s about others and not just yourself in this case,’ he said. …

“Velthoven also understands the business argument, even though he has spent a career looking for creative solutions to problems instead of blunt responses. He ultimately wondered what the government’s plan is for the catering sector if those businesses are ordered to stay closed for a longer duration. If billions of euros are being diverted to KLM, he wonders what the government will be able to do to bail out his industry.

” ‘If I am not allowed to do anything the rest of this year, it’s finished,’ he lamented.” More at NL Times, here.

If you have heard of other good ideas for restaurants and bars in our cautious Covid-19 world, please share them in Comments. Pretty sure that there’s a large group of potential patrons who will be looking for the safest way to dine out — at least until a vaccine is widely available.

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